Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens kicked off 2024 with a tense moment as protestors spoke up about city and international issues at his first meeting as board chair of the Atlanta Regional Commission. Dickens is the first Atlanta mayor elected to the role, following Kerry Armstrong’s 10-year tenure.
Minutes after calling to order, a trio of protestors stood up during public comment and began speaking to Mayor Dickens about the city’s connection to Israel. One asked the mayor why the city of Atlanta continues to “contract the genocidal state of Israel,” a reference to GILEE — the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange.
The Georgia State University program, founded in 1992, is a joint project between the college and local, federal and international law enforcement. Through GILEE, law enforcement and public safety officials in and around Atlanta have traveled to Israel to train under local officers.
Dickens and commission officials told the protestors that if they wished to provide public comment, they needed to officially sign up to speak. The protestors continued speaking, mentioning Palestine and the ongoing controversy around the upcoming Atlanta Public Safety Training Center until being escorted out by security.
After the protestors left, Dickens said there’s a “process for that,” and anyone interested should sign up for public comment.
“All of those people didn’t follow the process for public comment, as they do in any of these regional jurisdiction meetings,” Dickens said. “There’s public comment in most of them; they’re given a couple of minutes to voice themselves, and that’s it.”
The mayor said he had to uphold the decorum of the meeting and that it was “unfortunate” the trio did not want to abide by the rules.
After the protestors exited, Dickens continued the meeting as usual with a look at the year ahead. The Atlanta Regional Commission is responsible for transportation planning, community development, aging services, workforce development, mobility services, natural resource management and homeland security.
Several cities and communities received Green Communities certification, a voluntary title that covers 10 issue areas in sustainability. Alpharetta, Brookhaven, DeKalb County, Dunwoody, Peachtree Corners and Sandy Springs received gold certification, while Johns Creek received bronze certification. Atlanta did not receive a distinction, but Dickens said the city would apply to be recertified this year.
The commission took a keen look at climate actions for the upcoming year, with Climate and Natural Resources Resilience Manager Jon Phillipsborn looking at two major trends influencing the region: increased extreme weather events and changing conditions and energy transformation.
Phillipsborn presented data that showed temperatures are increasing across Georgia year to year, with a significant amount of “extreme heat days” with temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. He said the temperatures impact well-being, infrastructure, and people’s ability to do work.
“We also know that how people are impacted by these extreme events is not equal; vulnerabilities are not uniform across the region,” Phillipsborn said. “They impact people and communities differently depending on who you are, where you are and the context.”
To combat problems that come with rising temperatures and extreme weather,
Phillipsborn said the commission will prepare a priority climate action plan in 2024. They will also continue to submit applications for grant funding focused on areas like emissions reduction and electrification.
At the end of 2023, the commission also created the 13-member “Energy and Climate Council” that will focus on energy transformation and resilience. In the new year, it will look at “how ARC can be doing more important and meaningful work in these areas.”
Beyond climate, committees also presented overlooks on workforce development, transportation, aging and legislative moves that could impact the commission.
After the meeting, Dickens said he wanted to highlight the “go forward plans” for 2024 while promoting collaboration between Atlanta and the surrounding area rather than two separate agendas.
“We have muscle in Atlanta, and it’s good to use that common good for the whole region,” Dickens said.